Not ranting

Norwegian society is known worldwide as being harmonious and calm. A Norwegian abroad will likely never complain if the food he is served is of poor quality, because we are too modest to do so. At home, most arguments can be solved over a cup of coffee. In public life, a major strike that lasts for any longer than 24 hours is considered a national crisis. We frequently ridicule the tempers and active body language of southern Europans.

Yet, if you dig deep enough, there will be many, many opportunities to make our Viking blood boil.

  1.        Suggest that Sweden is better than us
    Or Denmark. Or Finland. But especially Sweden. We see our welfare system as absolutely perfect, we believe we are better than them at sports and just about everything else. To the average Norwegian, the best thing about Sweden is lower prices on cigarettes, alcohol and candy. Challenge this truth and you will provoke reactions. Be aware that saying the opposite in Sweden will either provoke a very good laugh or even more anger.
  2.        Make eye contact
    You’ll find this situation on trains, in buses, and in general public. Everyone is staring in a slightly different direction. This is because we like to avoid eye contact. In fact, a total stranger making eye contact will often be regarded by a Norwegian as a threat to his or her existence and treated thusly. This sometimes leads to absurd situations where the last arrivals on a stuffed bus will have to start playing with their cellphones because every single field of view available to them overlaps with somebody else’s.
  3.        Sit down beside a complete stranger when there are other seats available
    If there are unoccupied banks of seats available on a bus, you use one of them. It’s that simple. A common joke involves a Norwegian and an Indian being the only passengers on a bus: the Indian, not used to having elbow room on any form of public transport, thinks the Norwegian is lonely and decides to sit down beside him. Awkward hilarity ensues. And in the unfortunate event that you have to sit next to a stranger, under no circumstances should you talk to him/her. Sit down and SHUT UP!
  4.        Show up late for anything
    There is probably only one people in the world that cares more about punctuality than the Scandinavians, and that people is the Germans. Showing up late for anything more formal than a family party is considered a grave offense. And don’t even think about showing up early unless you want to do the host’s work.
  5.        Build something in our back yard
    Okay, this applies to all western countries. But Norwegians in particular have a firm belief that immediate access to nature is a human right. Basically, wherever you are in Norway, if you look in the right direction, you will see a forest. And even if not nearly all of us use it, the fact that it’s there is vitally important. This occasionally leads to roads having to take mile-long detours every time they come within the same postal code as a forest so as not to impede access for the 50 people living in the nearest village. Also, skyscraper construction in Oslo has been impossible for several years because it might obscure a couple people’s view of the woods.
  6.        Say anything negative about the King
    A lot of Norwegians are passive republicans. But nobody dislikes the King. Nobody can think of anything negative to say about the King, actually. His father, King Olav, was known to say “I have 4.5 million body guards”.  Because nobody has anything negative to say about him, all criticism of the King will basically be taken personally: as if you just insulted someone’s father. Politicians, however, are mostly fair game.
  7.      Say anything negative about the country; in general
    Norway is the greatest country in the world. In fact, former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said in one of her new year’s speeches “It’s typically Norwegian to be good”. we are and will be the greatest country ever. Just try telling a Norwegian that Norway isn’t the greatest country in the world. I dare you. Never mind that most of us hate parts of it. “This is such a moralist and conformist country. I hate it! I want to move to Denmark, where you’re allowed to be yourself.” If you manage to convince a Norwegian that anything is bad about Norway except the high taxes, poor infrastructure and the bad weather, you should immediately run for political office. If you don’t manage to convince them, the flood gates will open.
  8.        Mention that nobody cares about the sports we’re good at
    We are, like the US, one of the world’s greatest sporting nations…mostly at sports nobody cares about. Where the US has baseball and American football, we have cross-country skiing, orienteering and handball.  We, however, believe that most of our athletes are known worldwide. And never mind that our football team was beaten by f*cking Moldova – Petter Northug won the World Cup race yesterday! We don’t care about the fact that “We beat you at handball” will likely draw a blank stare in Brazil. We are the greatest sporting nation on Earth – so don’t ruin it for us!
  9.       Tell us that our dialect is ugly/nice
    Most Norwegians speak in a particular dialect. The dialects were formed as a result of Norway consisting of about a million different little valleys with very little contact with each other, meaning that in some regions two guys who live one kilometer down the road from each other speak almost comically different dialects. The dialects divide people into two camps: those who worship their dialect, and those who wish they were born where they speak a different dialect. Tell the wrong person the wrong thing, and they will actually get angry at you.

On Tuesday evening, the Norwegian press received quite unexpected news. It appeared that pop sensation (aka Disney puppet) Justin Bieber had landed at Oslo Airport. Somehow, his fan community had gotten word of it already and crowded the airport terminal. The star himself was therefore driven directly from the plane to the VIP terminal and from there on to Oslo. The chaos the fans created at the airport was just one of the many things to come…

When he arrived in Oslo, the Canadian artist checked in to Hotel Royal Christiania; which is unusual as most celebrities stay at Grand Hotel on Oslo’s main street, Karl Johan. His fans had also expected him to check in to the Grand, with the following amusing results when tabloid newspaper VG’s journalist informed them of the mistake:

Beliebers being redirected

(And the police said “thanks a lot, dude” to the journalist before rolling their eyes and running after the hordes of teenage girls now headed for the other hotel. Fortunately, most of that area is pedestrianized)

Here’s where things get dangerous. First, Bieber’s motorcade exits the hotel and drives in the direction of the Royal Palace (the author still not sure what they were going to do, but is pretty sure it wasn’t visiting the King). The thousands of fans gathered outside the hotel RAN AFTER the cars, straight into heavy traffic including a tram. Nobody was hurt, fortunately, but reportedly, police officers in Oslo suddenly acquired an average of 25 % more grey hairs that evening


On Wednesday morning, the author arrived in downtown Oslo for a “class excursion” (motivational Norwegian for “field trip”). The city was already filled with young girls dressed in purple. It had by now been unofficially confirmed that there would be a free concert on the roof of the Opera House. There was already a specially-built stage in the harbor for a more traditional concert in connection with the King and Queen’s 75th birthdays. Bieber would use this stage and have the audience sitting on the opera house roof. At this point, most of the girls had gathered outside the hotel, and screamed every time something resembling movement could be seen through Bieber’s hotel room window.

As the author walked up on the opera roof, chaotic scenes had already begun. A good estimate would be that at 10 AM (i.e. about six hours before the concert was supposed to start) about a thousand people were already on the roof. By the time the field trip was over, the police had blocked off the pedestrian bridge to the opera, and many fans had instead gathered at Jernbanetorget. Eventually, police had to intervene and cancel the planned press conference due to the hysterical amounts of fans. Meanwhile, Bieber’s record company, Universal, finally *officially* confirmed that there was going to be a concert and announced that it would be delayed from 4 to 9 PM. Also, JB would only perform six songs. After much joking that the crowd would be much reduced because the youngsters had to make it home before bedtime, police finally said what needed to be said. In short, they demanded that the concert be held earlier, and they told Universal Records to go **** themselves.

The concert finally occurred at 9 PM and Bieber performed a whooping seven (!!!!) songs. Around 100 fans had to be evacuated due to crushing, dehydration and other problems. Bieber left the stage after about half an hour, and to add insult to injury Universal then did not inform the police where he was going or when he was leaving the country.

Despite the fact that cleaning crews in the capital are currently on strike, the mountain of trash all around the roof of the opera house is the least of the city’s worries. Officials are furious, and have every right to be. Mayor Fabian Stang compared what happened to “setting fire to a wall and being surprised when the house burned down”. The police admit to being underprepared, but are also angry with Universal Records for basically being given responsibility for a situation they were not sufficiently informed about. Universal has, wisely, kept their mouth shut.

This morning Justin Bieber and his crew left for Paris. The Oslo police department said “bonne chance” to the Paris police and took a long-awaited sigh of relief.

Both images in this post are copyright Verdens Gang.

So basically, yesterday, at a high school in a rather wealthy suburb of Copenhagen (Hellerup), senior students were having one of their last assemblies before graduation – principal and all in attendance. Earlier that morning, teachers were given a quiz where they were told to “gætte klunker” – an expression that a Danish friend translated as “guessing d*cks”. They were shown pictures of students’ genitalia and told to guess who it belonged to. The teachers all found this to be in very bad taste, and refused to take the quiz, but took no further action. Later, students were shown the same genitalia on the big screen in the assembly hall, and told publically who it belonged to. Teachers did not take action here either.

The icing on the cake came when a “sex tape” of a student and an unknown young female was shown on the screen. Students at the school have said that the “tape” was basically a montage of poor-quality photos of the pair engaged in carnal relations, but nonetheless, it was obviously found to be disgusting. The principal and the teachers delivered stern reactions after the tape was finished, they also reported it to the police (it was assumed that neither party in the tape had consented); but did not attempt to stop what was happening during the two minutes the video lasted.

Danish media have since been running stories about the ways the various high schools (gymnasier) have been trying to attract students over the past few years. Instead of academic performance and quality; it seems many schools have attempted to market their party atmosphere. The Danish People’s Party (who are otherwise known as right-wing a-holes in the mainstream press) were the first to respond, calling on the government to stop this insane low culture at high schools. While the author does not agree that this should be a governmental matter, it certainly does not bode well for the Danish educational system if students choose their schools primarily based on the parties and sexual cultures offered at each institution.

All that aside, in Norway we are having great fun saying “Only in Denmark”. After all, Denmark is the only country where this:

…Is considered a breakfast drink.

It’s hot, it’s late in the school year and nobody has anything to do. The result is that at school, students are enjoying more of a vacation than many of them will during the actual summer break. Students are playing volleyball, football, ultimate frisbee and “enspretten” (no idea what this is called in English, the idea is to pass the ball between people without it touching the ground more than once); there’s ice cream everywhere, people have even brought waffle irons and small disposable grills (engangsgrill) to school. Teachers have classes outside, and most of them do not mind at all that students are goofing off. The author is writing this from a black keyboard in the sun and is therefore making an effort to make each key touch as short as possible.

This is when Norwegians enjoy life the most. People are out walking at midnight, when the sun is still up and the temprature is still comfortable. There is little to complain about, which is probably also why the government has strategically scheduled wage negotiations, and thus the time of year when strikes are most likely to occur, for around now. Teachers across the country are on a brief strike – but nobody seems to notice. Norwegians have ingrained in their genetic code that life is to be enjoyed when the weather is good, and a little labor dispute is not going to be put in the way of that.

To start off this blog, here is a recap of what has happened to Norway’s greatest footballing export, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, over the last few days.

Since giving up his legendary playing career at Manchester United in the late 2000s, Solskjær has ventured into coaching. At first, he stayed loyal to his old boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, and coached Manchester United’s reserve team. However, during the dying days of 2010 came an offer he could not possibly refuse. Molde, the top flight club nearest to his home town of Kristiansund, offered him a position as Supreme Overlord (aka Manager) and amazing sums of cash to help him build up a good team.

Molde was not and has never been a poor side in Norwegian football, mind you. Hailing from a town of barely 25 000 inhabitants, they reached their first cup final in 1974 and had racked up two cup triumphs and an almost heartbreaking display of second and third places in the league by the time Solskjær arrived. Over the last decade and a half, they had also received extensive financial aid from favorite sons Bjørn Rune Gjelsten and in particular Kjell Inge Røkke, who was Norway’s richest man at the start of the new millennium. Røkke also built a new, modern stadium for the club in the late 90s. The 2010 season, which followed another second place (their seventh) in 2009, was dominated by a combination of misfortune and mismanagement which resulted in a disappointing 11th place finish and the firing of Swedish coach Kjell Jonevret.

Solskjær’s arrival prompted a promise of practically unlimited funds from Røkke’s Aker Group, and many Norwegian football fans believed the floodgates had now opened for a Norwegian Manchester City (irony of ironies). Instead, Solskjær based his team mostly around young, mostly local talent as well as building on the excellent squad he already possessed. Thus, Molde ended up taking home their first league title in November 2011, and speculations were ripe that he would end up being picked by an English Premier League club – and even that he would become Sir Alex Ferguson’s eventual successor at Manchester United.

Well, that is exactly what brought up the story that has amused and puzzled football pundits and fans across Norway over the past few days. Aston Villa of Birmingham fired their under-performing manager Alex McLeish on Tuesday. The English footballing press launched Solskjær as a candidate to take over. So, only 24 hours after leading his team to a 2-0 win over Fredrikstad on Norway’s “National Day of Football”, and on the evening of Norway’s Constitution Day (May 17), Solskjær was informed that the private jet of Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner (also owner of the Cleveland Browns v2.0) had landed at Kristiansund Airport. The plane left the town on the morning of the 18th, carrying Solskjær and his wife with it. The couple returned from Birmingham only a few hours later to find that total chaos had erupted in all channels of Norwegian media.

Several media sources, most notably TV2 (broadcaster of the English Premier League in Norway), had practically decided that Sunny (his nickname at Man Utd, somewhat easier than Solskjær for the average English speaker,) was going to end up at Aston Villa. The man himself defused the rumors, claiming that the parties were only in “beginning, informal talks”. By evening of May 18th, however, all hell had broken loose. Kjell Inge Røkke, the man who is responsible for the financial element of Molde’s success, announced that due to Solskjær’s “disobedience” (sic) he would be withdrawing Aker Group’s financial support starting in 2013. Molde fans understandably felt like they were experiencing their worst possible nightmare coming true.

For the rest of the evening, the media focused on the contradicting statements made by Røkke and Solskjær. Both claimed that the businessman had asked his manager multiple questions before the flight across the North Sea. Solskjær also claimed that he had answered these questions, and had received Røkke’s approval before beginning talks. Røkke claimed the exact opposite.

Chaos in the late evening of the 18th. Top story: “Solskjær to ‘I have answered Røkke’s questions’. Bottom left: Røkke claims “Solskjær went to England without answering my questions”. Bottom right: “Supporter club: ‘Everyone has failed’.” From public broadcaster NRK’s website

By morning, there was extensive fence mending going on in all camps. Molde and Ole Gunnar Solskjær confirmed in unison that he would stay on at the club (though Solskjær admits that he wants a job in the Premier League at some point, and Molde confirmed that they have lost some confidence in him), and Røkke seemed to confirm that he privately would still support Molde financially. Norwegian media analysts seemed to be in agreement that both Solskjær’s actions and Røkke’s reaction were ill-placed, and many even classified the latter as a temper tantrum. Over the web, rumors and speculations spread that Solskjær will leave Molde during summer break. Candidates for his successor were launched, among them German Uwe Rösler (currently manager at Brentford, and the only coach in Norwegian football who has been seen above the Arctic Circle in shorts in March). Aston Villa sources report that he is still top candidate for the job in Birmingham. “Og sånn går no dagan”, as we say in Norwegian (1). The entire story may very well turn into something resembling an ancient saga.

(1)    = “Og sånn går no dagan” is an expression meaning something along the lines of “And thus the days pass”. It can be interpreted as meaning “An absolutely ridiculous situation that has become normal and expected”.